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End game for O'Neill

Wales 4-1 Ireland

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Up for it: Ireland forward Jonathan Walters is challenged by Wales' Chris Mepham during last night's Nations League clash in Cardiff

Up for it: Ireland forward Jonathan Walters is challenged by Wales' Chris Mepham during last night's Nations League clash in Cardiff

Up for it: Ireland forward Jonathan Walters is challenged by Wales' Chris Mepham during last night's Nations League clash in Cardiff

When Ireland and Wales last met a few months ago, the Welsh were outfought by the visitors to Cardiff.

Last night in the same city, Ireland were outplayed, outfought, out-thought, outmanoeuvred, outwitted, in every aspect of the game which was a truly horrid night for Irish football.

The start of a new campaign and a new tournament could be the start of the end game for Martin O'Neill.

This Irish team has still not recovered from the debacle of the 5-1 loss to Denmark last year and it's very hard to see how he can recover from this one. He will be in charge for the double-header at home to Wales and Denmark next month.

Beyond that? It's hard to predict but also very, very hard to have faith in him being able to lift this team out of the doldrums as this is a team on the road to nowhere.

Some teams get locked into a cycle of misery and defeat: the Republic of Ireland have lost four of the last five games and have been beaten 9-2 on aggregate in the last two competitive games. The players last night lacked any idea of how to change things on the field, so it may take a change on the sideline to make that happen.

It must have hurt Ireland's assistant manager to hear the home fans in the crowd of 25,657 chanting "Keano, Keano, what's the score?" with still 30 minutes to play.

Roy Keane the TV pundit would have utterly dismissed this Irish display as unacceptable. Should Irish supporters keep accepting the sight of a rudderless ship?

Not all of the blame for this horror show can be placed on the shoulders of the 66-year-old. Players let him down: Ciaran Clark looked anything but a Premier League defender, Seamus Coleman was shown how a full back should play by the brilliant Ben Davies (who was able to create as well as defend), Darren Randolph was suspect more than once and Jeff Hendrick was bossed out of the game by a 17-year-old.

Even though this was an Irish side ravaged by injuries and withdrawals, there's barely a single crumb of comfort to be taken, though Shaun Williams will treasure the memory of the goal he scored on his competitive debut.

If you want the facts, here they are. Wales were in front as early as the sixth minute, Tom Lawrence splitting a wide-open Irish back four to score. Gareth Bale had them 2-0 up on 18 minutes, nicely dealing with a cross from Den Davies and brushing past the hapless Ciaran Clark like he wasn't there. Worse was to come on 37 minutes, Aaron Ramsey with the finish after Ethan Ampadu did the approach work.

Down 3-0 with almost an hour to play, it's a long time since Ireland were so adrift of a result in a competitive game. Even in those humiliations like Germany in 2012 (1-6) and Belgium in 2016 (0-3) Ireland were still in the game at half time.

Connor Roberts - he plays for Swansea City, to save you checking it up - finished a Bale cross to put Wales 4-0 up on 55 minutes, Ireland getting a response, a weak one, with Shaun Williams' 60th minute goal, after he dispossessed Aaron Ramsey.

Now, you really do get the sense that time is up for this Ireland outfit. Martin O'Neill will point to the absence of key players, and indeed an Ireland XI with Rice, Brady, McCarthy and Long could have put up more of a fight, or would least have had more shape. But it's just that, the utter lack of shape and drive in the side, which is the biggest concern as well as the utterly impotent Irish midfield, Conor Hourihane again invisible and Jeff Hendrick with his now-standard insipid display.

This is not a Welsh side of the Southall/Giggs/Hughes era. Only soccer anoraks, or maybe your average 10-year-old with a sticker album, would know off the top of his/her head what clubs Tom Lawrence or Chris Mepham play for.

And should O'Neill try to claim that the presence of one world-class player in the Welsh side (Bale) made all the difference, ignore that. Wales were well-drilled, organised, composed on the ball.

Wales captain Ashley Williams said before the game that their camp was still not over the pain of losing to Ireland in Cardiff in the World Cup qualifiers last year and predicted that even a win last night would not ease their anguish. He might revisit that today due to the powerful nature of their win and the utter gulf in class. Ireland are hurting, and it looks like the beatings will continue.


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